In the 75 years between 1950 and the year 2025, the world elderly population is projected to increase from 8% to 14% of the total global population, or 1.2 billion persons. While the total world population will have grown by a factor of a little more than three, the elderly will have grown by a factor of six and the very old by a factor of 10. The developing countries are projected to age more quickly in the coming decades, and are concerned by two factors: a weak institutional infrastructure for accommodating the elderly, and the uncertainty that families will be able to continue providing traditional care for the elderly.
In 1948, Argentina first presented a draft declaration on old age rights to the General Assembly, which referred it to ECOSOC. ECOSOC requested the Secretary-General to draft a report on the matter, and in 1950 he submitted a report entitled "Welfare of the Aged: Old Age Rights." However, the rapid change in the world's population structure was not evident in 1950, and an interval of 20 years elapsed before Malta tabled another initiative on the agenda of the General Assembly in 1969. This initiative was followed throughout the 1970s and led to the convening of the World Assembly on Aging in 1982.
In 1973, the General Assembly considered a comprehensive report that noted the demographic increase in the absolute and relative size of the older populations of the world (a trend that was expected to continue because of medical advances and decreases in birth and death rates) and estimated that the number of persons 60 years of age or over throughout the world would double between 1970 and the year 2000. The General Assembly recommended guidelines to governments in formulating policies for the elderly, including development of programs for the welfare, health, and protection of older people and for their retraining in accordance with their needs, in order to maximize their economic independence and their social integration with other segments of the population.
In 1978, the General Assembly decided to convene a world assembly for the purpose of launching "an international action program aimed at guaranteeing economic and social security to older persons," as well as opportunities for them to contribute to national development. The General Assembly later decided that the conference should also consider the interrelated issue of the aging of whole populations.
The World Assembly on Aging, held in Vienna in July–August 1982, was attended by representatives of more than 120 countries. It adopted an international plan of action, both to help the aging as individuals and to deal with the long-term social and economic effects of aging populations. Recommendations contained in the plan of action covered (1) the need to help the elderly lead independent lives in their own family and community for as long as possible, instead of being excluded and cut off from all activities of society; (2) the importance of giving the elderly a choice in regard to the kind of health care they receive and the importance of preventive care, including nutrition and exercise;(3) the need to provide support services to assist families, particularly low-income families, to continue to care for elderly relatives; and (4) the need to provide social-security schemes, to assist the elderly in finding (or returning to) employment, and to provide appropriate housing. The plan of action also included recommendations for meeting the needs of particularly vulnerable persons, such as elderly refugees and migrant workers.
The Commission for Social Development, which is entrusted with reviewing implementation of the plan of action every four years, noted in 1985 that by the year 2025, more than 70% of persons over 60 years of age would live in developing countries. In 2025, experts estimate that the elderly population of the world will number 1.2 billion, six times more than the 200 million elderly worldwide in 1950. The commission listed priorities for action, including the creation of national committees on aging, coordinated planning, strengthening of information exchange, training, research, and education programs.
In 1988, the UN established the International Institute on Aging in Valetta, Malta, to conduct training, research, collection and publication of data, and technical cooperation in the field of aging. In 1990, the General Assembly designated 1 October as the International Day for the Elderly. In 1991, the General Assembly adopted a set of 18 United Nations "Principles for Older Persons" clustered under five themes: independence, participation, care, self-fulfillment, and dignity. The principles mandate that older persons should have the opportunity to work and to determine when to leave the work force; remain integrated in society and participate actively in the formation of policies that affect them; have access to health care to help them maintain the optimum level of physical, mental, and emotional well-being; be able to pursue opportunities for their full development; and be able to live in dignity and security.
In 1992, the General Assembly gave its patronage to the privately-created Banyan Fund Association's World Fund for Aging, in Torcy, France, which assists developing countries, at their request, in activities aimed at formulating and implementing policies and programs on aging. Also in 1992, the General Assembly devoted four special plenary meetings in October to a conference on aging. It issued a Proclamation on Aging (resolution A/47/5), which reaffirmed its previous resolutions and established the year 1999 as the International Year of the Elderly "in recognition of humanity's demographic coming of age and the promise it holds for maturing attitudes and capabilities in social, economic, cultural and spiritual undertakings, not least for global peace and development in the next century." In its Resolution 47/86, the General Assembly adopted a set of global targets on aging for the year 2001 as a practical strategy for countries to provide for the needs of the elderly.
On 5 October 2000, the UN held a 10th Annual Celebration of the International Day of Older Persons, sponsored by the UN/NGO Committee on Aging in collaboration with the UN Department of Public Information and the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. The conference raised the issue of interdependence between generations.